April 11th, 2009
08:00 AM ET

Dear President Obama #82: Ten things – Sent to the 'Principled' Office

Reporter's Note: Our President, Barack Obama, says he would like to hear ideas from Americans on how to improve the country. I’m having trouble deciding on what tie to wear today, but nevertheless, I am doing my part with a letter a day to the White House; currently through this series on Ten Things You Ought to Know About America, But You Might Not Know From Watching the News.

This is Part Five.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/10/art.getty.obama.bair.summer.jpg]

Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

When someone says he agrees with you in principle, it means he has no intention of going along with you practice. I don’t know who first said that, but whomever it was drilled that one like a Titleist down the fairway.

I think for some time we’ve been watching a divergence in this country between the “official world” and the “real world;” between the principles and the practices of our society. And it’s becoming a problem.

Take diversity for example.

Plenty of offices out there are completely on board this train; promoting slogans and pushing employee handbooks filled with propaganda all about how they respect, desire, will sell their souls if only they can have some diversity! I call it propaganda because I think just like those splashy Russian posters from the Cold War days the goal is to create a false sense of the state of things.

Now, diversity can, of course, be wonderfully positive and powerful. The mixing of ideas and influences from Irish, Italian, African, English, German, Chinese, Cuban, and other immigrants made America the enormously successful and vibrant place it is.

(Mind you, all that diversity didn’t work out so well for the Native Americans. Seems their way of life was a little too diverse for the new neighbors) Taking concepts about science, art, education, food, and business from a variety of cultures allows us to not only skim off the best ideas, but also create new and wondrous amalgamations.

But is that what workplaces are doing? In many cases, especially in the throbbing hearts of big cities, I think not. When they say they want diversity, I don’t think they mean they want more old people, or more rural people, or more people who hunt for fun, or more religiously devout people who will refuse to work on weekends, or more dedicated family men and women who will say they have to go home at five p.m., or more people who believe in labor unions, or more ethical people who will actually challenge the boss when the business starts doing something that is wrong. All of those people represent diversity.

But what too many offices really want is a lot of people who toe the corporate line, think alike, are young, cheap, and easily manipulated, but who look different. They want more colors. In other words, they want to measure people by the very ruler that, in principle, they say they are out to break: Race.

We’re doing the same thing on other issues of course; preaching one idea, practicing another, and there is real danger in this. Because when people become convinced that the official world is getting too far out of touch with the real world, they start ignoring, even mistrusting, the official world. So when the government says “the terror threat is Code Orange,”or “We need to conserve gas,” or “You should spend money to stimulate the economy,” voters shrug and say, “Oh yes, more propaganda from the powers that be.”

I’m convinced that this very concept is part of the rot that ate away at the Soviet Union. In my home I have a large poster from Russia of beaming women exercising in a factory. Above them it says in Russian, “Government sponsored activity every morning, leads to healthy relaxation!”

The problem is, for all the smiling faces in the posters, the Russians knew they were being sold a bill of goods; that they were struggling through hard lives, propping up a failed political concept, and watching the rest of the world leave them behind.

So launch all the programs you want, but be wary of overreaching to the point that you wind up talking about principles that you can not put into practice; because that builds mistrust. Americans can smell a phony a mile away. The more your “official world” reflects and answers to the “real world” the better chance you have of keeping the “real world” support you are enjoying now.

I need to “really” get some sleep. Call if you get a minute. More tomorrow.



Find more of the Foreman Letters, here.

soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. J.V.Hodgson

    Praising diversity is the best i have heard from you recently.
    But whay do you need to do this in one of your presidential letters?
    If this guy is not the best supporter of diversity in an American President (Hussein) middle name ( coloured) and pushing reconcilaition in war zones ( accepting religious diversity) I am lost as to why you think this IMPORTANT or necessary to even send as a letter. It is simply stirring up the excesses of any specific " diverse" aspect of "Good Ole America".
    I am appalled and find this very offensive as I thought this "diversity" is
    was ad remains and will be America's strength and BHK, the best presidential supporter and personification thereof in a long time!
    He might not succeed, but that's not the point!!

    April 13, 2009 at 5:28 am |
  2. Joanne Pacicca


    Your words are true. I have worked as an Accounts Payable Manager for years, now all the voices I hear from 1,500 accounts have changed to uner 25, inexperienced credit managers, who have not even bothered to check the credit histories much less the Dunn & Brad rating of the company that I represent! Cheap and easily disposable leads to other things that defy diversity, such as: age discrimination, early retirement for valued employees who have worked their way up the "corporate ladder"...isn't that discrimination?

    April 11, 2009 at 8:34 pm |